August 1

Adult Children of Divorce: 10 Surprising Facts Parents Might Not Know

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adult children of divorce, divorce blog


It’s no secret these days that baby boomers have the highest divorce rate of any age group. Yet, few people realize that, because so many of the over 50 crowd are getting divorced now, adult children of divorce have become their own special breed of divorce casualties.

Fifty years ago, only 2.8% of Americans over 50 were divorced. Today, more than 15% of Americans over 50 are divorced.

What’s more, even though the divorce rate for the general population is falling, the divorce rate for those over 50 has more than doubled since 1990. The divorce rate for those over 65 has more than tripled.

All of that means that the number of adults who will face the challenge of having their older parents divorce has skyrocketed.

Adult Children of Divorce: The Forgotten Demographic

No one thinks about the effect of divorce on adult children. Few researchers have studied adult children of divorce. That’s probably because, until recently, there weren’t all that many adult children of divorce to study.

Today, that’s changed.

Yet, even while the research lags behind, it’s clear that adult children of divorce have different issues and concerns than younger children.

True, the age and maturity level of an adult child can make dealing with divorce easier in some ways. But it also makes it harder in others.

Sad, beautiful African American woman

7 Ways Divorce Can Be Harder on Adult Children

Here are 7 problems that adult children of divorce have to deal with, that younger children don’t:

  1. Parents KNOW that divorce will hurt their young children, but they ASSUME that it won’t affect their adult children.
  2. Parents of young children usually don’t lean on their kids for emotional support during and after their divorce. Yet, parents of adult children often do.
  3. Divorcing Parents of adult children tend to overshare intimate details of their marriage and new dating lives with their adult children. This makes it more likely that the kids will take sides. (It also makes their kids wildly uncomfortable!)
  4. Because there is no court-ordered parenting schedule, it’s often harder for adult children to repair broken relationships with a divorced parent.
  5. A late in life divorce threatens older adults’ financial security. Their adult children are often left having to financially support on or both parents during and after their divorce.
  6. A late in life divorce also strips older adults of social support. Whereas aging parents are often able to support each other while they’re married, when they divorce, the kids have to pick up the slack.
  7. Adult children of divorce often carry incredible amounts of anger and guilt over their parents divorce. They are angry that their parents didn’t divorce earlier. They also feel guilty that their parents stayed together just for them.
Woman with "Guilt" written on her forehead.

10 Surprising Facts Divorcing Parents with Adult Children Need to Know

While the challenges that adult children of divorce face may be different than younger children, the ways that parents can help their kids adjust is surprisingly similar. If you are a divorcing parent, here are 10 “not so obvious” tips for helping your adult children cope with your divorce.

1. You Still Need to Remind Your Kids That Your Divorce is Not Their Responsibility

Divorcing parents with young children are encouraged to assure their kids that their divorce is not their kids’ fault. That’s because young children tend to blame themselves for their parent’s divorce. They feel guilty for “causing” the divorce.

What parents of adult children might not realize is that adult children also feel guilty about their parent’s divorce, but in a different way.

Adult children might not feel like they caused their parent’s divorce. But, if they think their parents only stayed married for their sake, they often feel just as guilty for causing their parent’s unhappiness. After all, who wants to think that their parents suffered for years, just because of them?

What You Can Do: Talk to your kids. Assure them that your decision to divorce when you did was completely YOUR decision (or your spouse’s decision), not theirs. Remind them that, even though they may be an adult, you are still their parent. You did, and will continue to do, what you believe is best for them, and for you. Remind them too, that they are not responsibleyou’re your life or your happiness – you are.

2. Remember That Your Divorce is Their Loss Too

Divorcing people usually get caught up in their own emotions. That’s normal. But, when you’re a divorcing parent, you need to remember that your kids are going to be emotional about your divorce too.

That’s easy to remember when you’re a divorcing parent with young children. Everyone from your divorce lawyer to your great Aunt Nellie will remind you to take extra care of your kids during your divorce.

But no one says anything about your adult children. No one tells parents of adults that their divorce will rock their children’s world, no matter how old they are.

What You Can Do: Don’t just talk to your kids – listen to them! Ask them what they think, and how they feel. Then shut up and listen! When you’re in pain yourself, and your whole world has just been turned upside down, that’s not easy. But, if you love your kids, giving them a safe space to talk about their emotions – even when you don’t like what they’re saying – is one of the best things you can do.

Senior couple going through a gray divorce arguing on a couch

3. You’ve Still Got to Get Along With Your Ex.

Everyone knows that divorcing parents of young kids need to find a way to get along with each other after their divorce. They will still have to see each other at their kids’ soccer games and music recitals. For the kids’ sake, they need to get along when they pick them up or drop them off. In short, they have to find a way to parent their children at least a little peacefully until the kids are eighteen.

Adult children, on the other hand, don’t need any active parenting. So it’s easy for older divorcing parents to assume that whether they get along with their ex or not really doesn’t matter that much. … It does.

While you might not have to argue with your ex about your kids’ homework anymore, you are both still going to have to show up as parents at weddings, graduations, funerals, and family events. So, like it or not, you’ve still got to find a way to get along with your ex, even if it’s only on special occasions. You don’t want to be “those” parents who can’t even be in the same room together at their kid’s wedding without making a scene.

What You Can Do: The way you go through your divorce makes a huge difference in how well you and your ex will get along after your divorce. Don’t turn your divorce into a war. Use mediation or Collaborative Divorce to resolve your issues if you can. Get yourself a therapist and work through your anger and pain. Do whatever you have to do so that, in the future, you can at least be civil to your ex when you need to be.

Senior couple arguing with their adult child of divorce mediating between them.

4. Your Kids Are Not There for Your Emotional Support

Most divorcing parents with young children know better than to cry on their kids’ shoulders when they are going through a divorce. They do their best to hide their worst emotional upsets from their kids. They maintain their role as “parent” and try not to dump all of their emotional angst on their kids.

Parents of adult children, however, typically don’t feel the same need to protect their kids from their divorce drama. They assume that, since their kids are adults, they’re old enough to deal with the reality of divorce.

What they may not realize is that even adults have trouble dealing with the reality of their parent’s divorce.

What You Can Do: It’s fine to talk to your kids about your divorce in broad terms, but please, spare them the details! If you’re having trouble dealing with your emotions, get a therapist. Don’t dump on your kids. They have their own emotions about your divorce that they have to deal with. They don’t need to deal with your emotions, too. (And, for heaven’s sake, don’t tell your kids the “secrets” you don’t want their other parent to know! That is totally unfair to your kids!)

5. Forcing Your Kids to Take Sides in Your Divorce Can Tear Your Family Apart Forever.

While you may think that only young children can be alienated from their parents, the truth is that ANY child can be alienated from his/her parents. If you tell your kids enough horrible stuff about their other parent, they’re either going to hate that parent, hate you, or hate both of you.

What’s even worse is that your divorce can make your children hate each other, too.  If one of your kids sides with you in the divorce and the other sides with your ex, not only are you and your spouse going to be at odds, but your kids will turn on each other too.

Even if all of your kids take the same side in your divorce, they can still turn on each other later. If one of your children decides at some point to forgive the “bad” parent, and his brothers and sisters don’t agree, your kids may turn on each other in the future. That will put the forgiving child in the unfortunate position of having to choose between having a relationship with his/her parent, and having a relationship with his/her brothers and sisters.

Big, beautiful home with 3 car garage

What You Can Do: Take the high road! When it comes to your spouse, don’t overshare personal information with your children! Don’t try to make your spouse look bad to the kids. Remember that your spouse is your kids’ other parent! They deserve to have a relationship with both of their parents. Do your best not to ruin that for them. 

Big, beautiful home with 3 car garage

6. Getting Rid of the Family Home May Affect Your Kids More Than You Think

Divorcing parents with young children often struggle over who should keep the house in a divorce. Parents typically want to keep the house “for the kids” … whether they can afford it or not!

Once “the kids” are grown and gone, it’s easy for parents to think that getting rid of the house should be no big deal. After all, with only two people living there, the house may have been too big to keep anyway.

What parents may not realize is that their house was the family home. It was where the kids grew up. It is where their memories are – memories that they now may be struggling to hold on to now that everything else is up for grabs.

What You Can Do: Be sensitive to your kids’ feelings about their house! If you have to sell the house for financial reasons, tell them so in advance. Be honest about your finances, and your reason for selling the house. Give them time to grieve the loss of their home. It is a loss to them – and it’s one more loss at a time when they’re already losing a lot. Finally, when you’re dividing up the stuff in the house, make sure to give your kids the chance to take mementos or things that might have sentimental value to them.

7. Your Divorce May Make Your Kids Question Their Own Relationships.

No one tells parents that if they have spent a lifetime pretending their marriage was happy, their divorce will likely blindside their adult children. When those children discover that their parents have been “living a lie” they will start to wonder if anything is true. For a while (maybe for a long while) they will lose faith in marriage altogether.

Adult children of divorce may also find themselves questioning more than just marriage. They also question their ability to maintain any kind of long term relationship. After all, if their parents’ marriage could fall apart after decades, what kind of relationship could possibly stay together?

Finally, the adult children of divorce who are not already parents themselves may start to question whether they ever want to become parents. If no relationship is permanent, and kids always get hurt, why bother having kids in the first place?

What You Can Do: Look past your own pain long enough to recognize if your kids’ relationships are suddenly starting to struggle. Differentiate your mistakes from theirs. Encourage them to get therapy to deal with the emotions they are feeling and the questions they are having. While you’re at it, get therapy for yourself as you grapple with the same big life questions that your kids are now facing.

8. Your Divorce Rewrites History.

When parents of young children divorce, the kids usually still have plenty of time together with each parent to adjust. They make new memories, new family traditions. They have their history of being one family and their history of being two families. For adult children, the only history they have as a family is in the past. Now, that history seems like it was resting on a lie.

When their parents’ long term marriages fall apart, adult children often feel the ground beneath them start to give way. Suddenly, they find themselves questioning whether they can believe in anything. They also start looking back at what seemed to be happy childhood memories and wondering if they, too, were “fake.”

After all, if their parents weren’t really happy when they seemed to be happy, then maybe everything that made memories that seemed happy was just a lie, too.

What You Can Do: Again, be sensitive to how your kids are feeling. Do your best to reassure them that, just because you’re getting divorced now, doesn’t mean that your entire past history was miserable or made-up. (Unless, of course, it was. In that case you have some heavy duty explaining to do.) It will also help if you don’t burden your kids with countless stories about how horrible your spouse was to you for decades. That only reinforces their belief that their whole family life was based on a lie.

Despondent woman in Santa hat eating a TV Dinner alone.

9. Holidays Will Never Be the Same.

Okay. You think you figured this one out already. Obviously you know that you, your spouse, and your kids are not going to be sharing Norman Rockwell moments during future holidays. But, are you sure you really thought about what that means?

If your kids are married themselves, they already have two sets of parents’ homes to visit during the holidays. Unless you and your ex are willing to put aside your differences and go to holiday events together, your kids will now have three sets of parents to visit. If your kid’s spouse’s parents are divorced, they will have four sets of parents to visit.

Putting aside the question of just how many dinners you can eat in one day, expecting that you will spend every holiday with your kids may just not be realistic. What’s more, since there are no court ordered holiday schedules for adult children, you and your ex may be vying for time with your kids during the holidays. That will make your kids feel guilty and put even more stress on them during an already stressful time.

What You Can Do: Be realistic about the holidays! Know in advance that everything is going to be different and plan accordingly. As hard as it is, you may want arrange to celebrate the holiday on a different day than usual. Then purposely plan your own vacation on a cruise ship on the actual holiday, just so you spare your kids the drama of trying to please multiple sets of parents all at the same time. (Again, it’s about sucking it up and being the parent!)

10. You Owe It To Your Kids To Make Sure Both You AND Your Ex Are Financially Solvent

The temptation in any divorce is to be overly concerned about your own financial security, while not caring at all about your ex. That’s normal. After all, you’re getting a divorce. You no longer have to worry about your ex, right?

Wrong! If you are over 50, and you have kids, caring only about your own finances can potentially put a tremendous burden on your kids.

Think about it: do you really expect your kids to let you or your spouse eat cat food or live in a homeless shelter when you’re 70? (Hopefully the answer to that is: No!) So, if your divorce judgment leaves your spouse with nothing, who do you think is going to pick up the slack? If you burn through your entire retirement account paying for divorce lawyers, what is your future, and your kids’ future, going to look like?

What You Can Do: Don’t spend all of your money fighting over your divorce! Yes, it may suck to be getting a divorce at your age. But it will suck worse to be broke and divorced at your age! Do your best to resolve your divorce amicably. Also, try to divide up your income and assets in a way that leaves both you and your spouse reasonably okay. If money is tight, and you’re unemployed, get a job! If you don’t have enough money to retire, keep working! In short, be reasonable, be fair, and be financially responsible. 

Beautiful woman with glasses wondering what to expect in a divorce.

Adult Children of Divorce Need Parents Too

Dealing with adult children of divorce may be different than dealing with young children in a divorce. Yet, the same basic principles apply.

  • Keep your children’s best interests in mind, even if your children are adults;
  • Be sensitive to your children’s needs;
  • Know that your children need time to adjust to your divorce, just as you do;
  • Give your children the time and space to grieve;
  • Don’t burden your kids with ugly information about your spouse; and
  • Don’t use your kids as a therapist.

In short, no matter who you are, or how old you are, if you’re a divorcing parent, you’ve still got to think about your kids.

You’ve still got to be the parent.

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        • This article helped me so much. My parents divorced about 5 years ago after 44 years of marriage. I’m 51 and felt silly for still being upset about it. I know feel validated that its ok to be traumatized about it.
          Thank you!
          Kim Hadden

          • My adult daughter gave me the choice to either leave her alcoholic father or she would never speak to me again. I panicked and left and she let me stay at her house as she was staying with her fiancé. I hated it there plus heard my husband had received a wellness visit from the police as he had not been to his usual bar and someone called the police expressing concern. Very much against her wishes I returned to my husband after 6 months of pure torture wondering if he was getting sick again. My daughter and I have a very conflicting relationship and she has been begging me to get a divorce for years, particularly after my husband’s hospitalization and rehab for wet brain. He still drinks which upsets her very much. I am now considering going ahead with a divorce and going back to the U.K. after being here 35 years but I’m afraid of taking such a big leap of faith. My daughter is very angry with me for returning home and all this is making us both ill with anxiety and depression.

          • I’m sorry to hear what you’re dealing with. It sounds like your relationship with your daughter is less than optimal, especially if it is causing anxiety and depression. That might be something to dive into with a therapist. S/he may be able to help you deal with whatever issues there are in that relationship.

            As for your husband, leaving and going back to the U.K. will take a big leap of faith. Without knowing a whole lot more about your situation (which I’m sure you don’t want to put online) I don’t know what to tell you about that. But I wish you the best.

          • Having just seen this happen to my parents after 36 years of marriage I have to wonder is marriage even possible. How could my father be this selfish. It makes me sick. He makes me sick. The old saying life sucks and then you die really is true.

          • Today is really hard on me, so I came searching for answers online for adult children suffering from divorce. My dad had an affair in 2012, and my parents were divorced in 2013. Within around 1 year both of my parents were remarried. I was shocked my mother actually ended up falling to pieces, but then by 1 year exactly was getting married. That came out of nowhere after I seen her be faithful all those 39 years of marriage. She really had a hard time with the affair, and tried to even work through it, but it never worked out. I’m not sure what is harder… the affair, the shock of that, the divorce, the fast remarriage, getting adjusted to “step parents”, “step adult brother and sister”, “step nieces & nephews”, or the fact that it put doubts in my head about marriage at all. I’m 38 and never been married before, and while I have seemed to make great strides towards healthier relationships with my parents, I feel I have crumbled today thus seeking help and realizing I have not been respected to grieve. I also feel I have been hard on myself saying as an adult I can handle it better, and “at least they didn’t divorce when I was a kid.” Even though it’s been a hard battle, I realized today… I need support and help. I didn’t know if there was help for adult kids of divorced parents, but seeing this article gives me hope that there are resources out there. Thank you. I will continue my search for healing.

          • My heart goes out to you! I wish I knew of some support groups for adult children of divorce. But unfortunately, I don’t. (Maybe I should start one!) Luckily, support comes in all different shapes and sizes.

            First of all, I would strongly encourage you to get a therapist. It’s not that you’re crazy. But, as you said, you need support. Since there are no support groups for adult children of divorce, that pretty much leaves you with therapy as the best professional option. A good therapist can help you grieve, and deal with the whirlwind of adjustments you have been faced with in the past few years. What’s more, working through your emotions with a therapist will also have the side benefit of improving your own romantic relationships.

            People think they can compartmentalize emotions. They think that they can forget about their parents’ divorce when they’re dealing with their own significant other. But the human heart isn’t so easily pushed aside. The pain in one area of your life spills over into others. Whatever unresolved emotions you have regarding your parents’ situation will likely affect your own romantic relationships. So, while it may be tempting to want to “deal with your parents’ situation later” if you do that you also make it harder to manage all the other relationships in your life.

            As for your doubts about marriage, I totally understand them. What’s awesome about this time in history is that society is no longer going to push you into marriage. Today you can NOT be married and not be shunned because you’re not married. That’s awesome. That means you have choices. You have time to work this all out for yourself. Take that time, and do the work.

            I know that right now, none of this is easy. I doubt your parents meant to shatter your world, but shatter it they have. The good news is that you have the power to put the pieces back together again. When you do, they’ll be stronger. (I don’t know if you know about the Japanese art of Kintsugi. Basically, it’s the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, so that the once shattered pottery piece is stronger and more beautiful than ever.)

            I wish you the best.

            Karen

    • Karen,,,I am a divorced man with two adult daughters. I have been in an on/off relationship with the woman whom I cheated on my wife. My daughters, ages 28 and 26 refuse to reconcile with me a long I maintain this relationship. As a father it troubles me greatly. I agonize over the loss of my girls but this woman thinks that because they are adults they deserve no consideration. I disagree and would like to work to have them back in my life. As a result I’ve broken the relationship with the woman who thinks I’m nothing more than a drama king.

      Am I wrong to feel this way? Is she right? Also she has 3 children and doesn’t feel she needs them nor they need her in her life.

      • Oh my! I can hear the agony coming right through what you wrote.

        I don’t think it’s a question of right or wrong. It’s a question of clashing values. You see having a relationship with your kids one way, and she sees it another way. If this were a less important issue, perhaps the two of you could live with the difference in your values.

        But it’s a very important issue. As a matter of fact, it sounds like it’s what I call a “deal-breaker” issue.

        Before I go farther, though, let me also clarify that I’m not saying that what your daughters are doing is all sunshine and roses either. They are demanding that you do what they want or lose your relationship with them. I totally understand WHY they’re doing that. But it doesn’t change the fact that their behavior is manipulative and your relationship with them has a price. At the same time, as a parent, I also understand the angst that their position is causing.

        It sounds like you’ve got some real soul-searching to do. You need to figure out what matters most to you and take a stand for what you believe matters. It’s not about “right” and “wrong.” It’s about what matters most to you and what you’re willing to do to get it. What’s most important at this point is that you’re HONEST with yourself. (That, by the way, is hard!)

        You can’t control your girls, just like they can’t control you (although they’re trying!). If the price of your relationship with them is ending your relationship with the other woman, then all you can do is decide whether you’re willing to give up that relationship or not.

        The same thing is true of the other woman. You can’t control her or her values. You’re never going to make her want or need a relationship with her own children or force her to understand your need to have a relationship with your girls. What you need to decide is whether you can ever be truly happy in your relationship with her if you’ve given up your girls for it and she thinks you’re a drama king.

        You’re facing a hard decision. Just remember, though, NOT deciding is a decision too.

        I wish you the best.

        Karen

  • This post really helps those parents who are experiencing difficulty in parenting their children. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Thank you for your message. This Divorce is the hardest thing that I have ever done and yes it hurts our grown children and it is very hard to navigate through this on a daily basis. But what makes it even harder is the fact that we believe that my wife is going through some mental illness to the point that no one in the family are able to talk to her. I can only pray that my whole family makes it through this. Thank you for your words as they are very helpful.

  • Karen, this is excellent. I’m a 30-yr-old middle child and my dad left my mom 6 years ago… I wish I’d seen this then… my parents’ divorce wrecked me and my siblings. I grew depressed and found myself needing anger management. My mother is bitter and my dad is unavailable. I don’t wish my parents would have divorced earlier but I do wish I could have been more ready for what happened. My own marriage suffered and it wasn’t until I realized I couldn’t fix my parents but I could stand up for myself and my own family unit did things get any better. It does motivate me to stay daily committed to my spouse. Communication is key.

    It’s Christmas and that why I find myself on your page. Holidays are the worst. They are a regular reminder that it’ll never be like it was. I’m glad I found your site. Thank you for writing this. Parents with adult children- please take each point Karen has shared seriously. Thanks

    • You’re so welcome! I’m glad you found this post! I’m also thrilled that you realized that you couldn’t fix your parents in time to save your own marriage! That’s awesome!

      I’m sorry that holidays are still a problem. I wish you the best in the new year!

      Karen

  • I wish my parents read this when they divorced 10yrs ago. As their oldest child, I still struggle w/ our reality today. And I have so much resentment.

    • My parents are divorcing after 45 years of marriage.
      The house is for sale and I am running around with lawyers with my mum. The hardest thing is that mum relies on her children for emotional support thru this time, and I feel guilty for feeling selfish that my feelings are not being acknowledged. My dad was abusing all our lives both physically and emotionally and my mother was the same. She blames my dad for it. I feel torn, sad and angry! One brother doesn’t talk to dad and supports mum, the other brother stays out of it completely and then there’s me, sitting on a fence completely paralysed with fear and sadness. I wish I could just leave them both, they should have divorced a long time ago and given us a chance to have a happy childhood, but instead they have done it now throwing our world upside down. Now, when I was happy, relaxed with my own family, now I have this crap to deal with. I am in the middle trying to please both and keeping secrets from both..

      • I am so sorry to hear your story! In a perfect world, parents wouldn’t throw their kids into the middle of their divorce, or lean on them for emotional support.

        Unfortunately, this world isn’t perfect.

        What you need to know is that, throughout this whole mess, you need to take care of yourself! You matter! Your feelings matter! The fact that your parents may not be acknowledging those feelings is unfortunate. It also means that you need to do that for yourself.

        I STRONGLY suggest that you get yourself a therapist. S/he will be able to help you navigate the emotional minefields you are undoubtedly facing in a more sane way. A therapist can give you the emotional support that your parents can’t give you right now. You need support.

        If it helps, you can try talking to your parents about how you feel. You can try to set boundaries, especially with your mom. But know, too, that that’s hard – especially for us women! We are natural caregivers. So, don’t judge yourself if you’re not perfect. Don’t judge yourself for feeling however you feel. Trust me – it won’t help.

        Just do your best. Get a therapist. And try to focus on your own family and the happiness they bring you.

        Best,

        Karen

        PS You are totally within your rights to tell BOTH of your parents that you’re not willing to keep their secrets any longer. So, if there are things they want to keep secret, they need to NOT share those things with you. That will get you out of the middle a little bit. Will they be upset with that decision? Yes, probably. But they’re adults. They can each get therapists and tell their secrets to them.

        • Hi Karen, your pretty awesome for your article has opened my eyes so much. I am 23 years old with an older sister and younger brother. My parents divorced when I was about 15. It was a very bad split which involved my dad going to jail a restraining order and my mom being with a guy throughout this time. It was devastating for me and my siblings and I know we all hurt now more than before cause we are older. We have turned against each other and our parents which still goes on today. My dad would say awful things about my mom and my mom would do the same about him. Out of my 2 siblings I have always tried my hardest to hear my parents out but I know my mental health is not good I did not get the proper therapy I needed which I seek right now and I get random moments where I cry often over my childhood and am not optimistic about my life or anxious over my relationship. I have a boyfriend of 3 years now. I just want to be happy and live MY life. Not worry about my dad growing old alone or my mom moving away with her new second husband.

          • Oh my! It sounds like your parents’ divorce was pretty ugly. I’m so sorry to hear that. While it probably would have helped if you went through therapy while they were going through a divorce, the good news is: it’s not too late! You can still do it now! (It sounds like you have found a therapist now. Yay! If you haven’t, then I strongly suggest you do so.) The bottom line is that it’s never too late to start working on yourself. Plus, the sooner you start to deal with all of this, the happier the rest of your life will be. (Really!)

            Next, while I can tell that you love your parents a lot, you might want to think about putting a little bit of distance between you while you get therapy and try to manage your own emotions. I don’t mean you’re going to ditch them forever. I just mean that it’s okay for you to create some breathing room for yourself. Spend some time focused on YOU, not on them!

            The truth is that until you get your own mental health in order, you won’t be able to help your parents or anyone else. (Remember, when you’re on an airplane, you’re told to put your own oxygen mask on first before you put a mask on a child, or anyone else.)

            So, take some time to work on yourself, and NOT worry about the rest of your family. I promise you that if you do that, you will feel better AND you will be in a better position to be strong for your family in the long run.

            Hope this helps.

            Hang in there.

            Karen

            PS I’m flattered that you think I’m awesome! Thanks! 🙂

  • This holiday was horrible. I was married 23 years and now divorced 10. My kids, age 30 and 26 spent a majority of their time with their dad. I took a half day off work to make dinner and they wanted to bump the time up and were in a hurry to get out of the house. I can’t lavish them with the financial gifts my ex can and it really hurts. I feel so broken.

    • I’m sorry to hear that. I can only imagine your pain. But, thinking of yourself as broken doesn’t help.

      I wish I had some magic words of wisdom that would make everything better for you. Unfortunately, I don’t. All I can say is that you’re not alone!

      The only suggestion I have is to have an honest conversation with your kids. They’re adults. You can tell them how you feel. But (here’s the important part) you’ve also got to be open to asking how they feel and genuinely listening to what they have to say – whether you agree with them or not!

      Through an open and honest dialogue you may be able to make your relationship with your kids better. But (fair warning) it will probably be hard! They will tell you things you may not agree with and may not want to hear. So this is NOT something to try unless you’re really open to change and willing to see the world from their eyes – even if your view of things is dramatically different! You have to be ready to hear their criticism (because I’m sure they will have some.) But, once they feel like you honestly heard them, they may be willing to work on creating a better relationship.

      I wish you the best.

      Karen

  • I am glad I found this. Wish I had seen it earlier. Our separation/divorce has been ongoing for almost a year.

    My two adult sons are not coping with our new life very well. They are becoming estranged from both of us. The oldest, 25 is handling it better than the 22 year old. They both live in another state and traveled to their childhood state for the holidays.

    Neither one saw or spoke with us at Christmas. Texting is all I get. Their Father has ongoing mental health issues and is currently in treatment. For financial reasons we had to let go of our family home and most of its contents. I saved some important momentos but the younger one was out of country when this took place and he may not have had a chance to choose his wants.

    My heart is breaking, and I don’t know what to do. The older one has a long term GF and they are watching out for the younger one while we, the parents are working to get our lives in order.

    Both boys have excellent career paths. I have a new, promising career job at 58 years old. Their father, not so lucky.

    I’m trying to let time heal. This is the hardest thing I have ever done.

    Any suggestions out there would be greatly appreciated.

    All the best to anyone reading.

    C.

    • Oh my! I canhear how upset you are, and I can’t say that I blame you! I know it doesn’t help, but I’ve had so many people tell me that their relationships with their adult children have suffered because of their divorce. Know that you are not alone!

      I know your heart is breaking, but right now there is no point in heaping any more guilt on you or your ex for what has already happened. You can’t change the past. What you can do is to try to be open and honest with your sons about YOUR relationship with them. They don’t need to know the details of your divorce. But it might help for them to know how sorry you are that life hasn’t turned out the way you had dreamed that it would – for you, or for them!

      What’s positive is that at least 3 of you have good jobs. If your sons are smart enough to have such excellent careers, they’re also smart enough to know that their father has mental health issues. That doesn’t make dealing with those issues any easier. But at least it helps them understand why your marriage didn’t work out.

      For now, all you can do is let them know you love them, that you never meant to hurt them, and that you want a relationship with them. They need to know that the door is always open for them – no matter what they do. Then you have to love them unconditionally. That means,as hard as it is, you have to let them be hurt. You have to let them be angry, and not talk to you. Just keep texting them. Just keep being their for them. Eventually, (hopefully) they’ll come around. But it will take time.

      In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to get a therapist or join a support group so that you have someone you can talk to.

      I can only imagine how horrible you feel. Just hang in there. Hopefully, in time, things will get better.

      Karen

    • I wish my parents had read this article when they separated and divorced! They could have made it easier on us kids!

  • Karen: I am presently living with my 95 year old mother. My divorce lasted five years because of an attorney that fed my mentally ill ex’s paranoia in order to suck as much money out of him as he could. When one side keeps placing motions with the court, the other side has to respond. I could not request mediation because the mediator is best friends with my ex’s attorney. The county I lived in in Wisconsin has a history of discriminating against women during divorce. In the middle of my divorce, I Googled my ex attorney’s name, my present attorney’s name and the word ethical. I was in shock at what I found. I was not alone in how I was being treated by the court. I could not believe the blatant lying, the approval of the abuse the court let my ex and his attorney get away with and the complacency of the attorney’s in town towards this attorney. One attorney told me after a judge punished me for my ex disobeying her orders, “Don’t you know Court Commissioner Marcus has a thing for your husband’s attorney and generally gives him anything he wants.” My second attorney wanted me to lie in court on asset info. I said no. This is when I found out that this attorney does this all the time but his motives are to screw his own client and work for this attorney my ex had. I lost all of my personal belongings because the court gave them all to my ex and told him he could destroy anything he wanted to. Just for your readers information Goodwill only allows a 1200 deduction per year for donations. I called them when I found out he was disposing of my things this way and Goodwill told me they could not help me because they were too busy. So , now I look at them as receivers of stolen property and tell everyone to not donate to them.
    The main reason for my writing you is because of my adult children. I did not speak to them for over two years at the start of everything because my attorney told me to leave them alone and they will come around to see the whole picture in 2 to 5 years. This crushed me but I tried. Finally my oldest child’s spouse told her that if he had to tell her 300 times he was going to talk to me, he would. She implied to me that her spouse was talking to me only because he was so nice. I have not spoke to my other two children for close to five years and they are not any closer to mending things than they were from day one.
    My ex is an addict because of a (very famous from a world famous hospital) doctor supplying him with opioids on a regular basis even after nine letters from me begging him to stop giving him this medication. I was fined 5000.00 dollars for asking for help to make this divorce end from this doctor and friends that knew the problem. I am deathly afraid of this court. My ex told horrifying lies about me and joint friends, who knew me for over 50 years believed him. How come it is easier for people to believe that a woman is a whore than an addict is a liar. I have cut out most of these people from my life. That was the easy part. I have set boundaries because of the court. I have asked my children if they talk to me, they have to promise not to repeat to their father or his sisters about anything we talk about. I have asked them to separate themselves from two of their aunts because they were supplying their father with money to keep the divorce going and to steal my belongings from me. I am deathly afraid if I tell them the grass is green, their father and his sisters will take me back to court and I will be the one who either goes to jail or has to pay thousands of dollars in fines.”This court does this to people because they can.” A second woman contacted me and told me her story. Her ex had this same attorney my ex had and a good friend of her ex told her that this attorney was teaching her ex how to get her arrested so when custody came up, she would lose. It happened. At one point she went to court to ask for supervised visits when her ex took the kids on outings. She had learned her ex was leaving her 6 year old along the road alone while he was jet skiing on the lake. A judge from the same court I went to denied her request. Her ex took their child out to this lake, left him alone while he jet skied. To make a long story short, the child was hit so bad he had to be life lifted to a children’s hospital in the state. Now her ex is taking her back to court to try and deny the child his doctor appointments so it looks better for him. It has helped to know that I am not the only one who has went through hell in this county court.
    I have asked my children to go to counseling with me to have a neutral place to talk and start to communicate. They refuse. They say I need the counselor. I have been going to a counselor for five years now. My oldest daughter lies to me about things she says to me. I have emailed all three children and told them I only want the truth because lies always come out and then they hurt even more. It has been the hardest holiday this year because I see no end. My ex tells them one thing and he does the opposite and they seem to not care. I was their only stable parent most of their lives but I am now the one they punish for everything. My ex came from a divorced family, two alcoholic parents a vicious vindictive mother, two alcoholic sisters and a third sister with sever eating disorders. One thing they were all taught by their mother is that you never let anyone from the outside know what goes on behind closed doors. Now my children think that is how you mend what is going on. I told my oldest that if you don’t face things in life they will come back to haunt you and they will explode sometime in your life. I was the parent that wanted children, I was the parent that made up things for them when their father failed them over and over again. I learned how to stay calm when their father would emotionally and verbally abuse me because if I did not I knew it would end bad. The divorce was non-contested but his attorney saw his assets and decided it was going to be contested if liner his pockets. I have no ideas anymore on how to start mending things with my children. My mother toild me once, never give up your friends because they will be there for you more than your spouse or children will be. I have gathered my true friends around me but I still miss my children. Do you have any advice?

    • Oh my! I can hear how much you’re hurting. Unfortunately you’re in a tough spot. It’s good that at least you have your friends. (I know you want your adult children back too. I get it. Getting a relationship back with them is going to be more challenging.)

      Before you read further, know that I’m giving you a little “tough love” here. You might not agree with me. If you don’t, that’s fine. If what I say doesn’t resonate with you, feel free to close this web page and forget you ever wrote a comment here. But, before you do, I encourage you to read this with an open mind.

      You’ve said a lot about what you’ve asked your children to do. You asked them to promise not to tell their father what you say when you talk to them. You asked them to separate themselves from two aunts. You asked your children to go to counseling with you. Clearly, asking your children to do things (which they probably feel is more like demanding) isn’t working. Perhaps you could try not asking them to do anything. Instead, just ask them how they’re doing. Ask them how you can help them. Listen to them. Don’t expect them to mend their relationship with you. Take the time and make the effort to mend your relationship with them.

      First, apologize. Tell them that you’re so sorry if you’ve done anything to hurt them. That was never your intention. Tell them you’d like to start fresh. (Yes, I know. You feel like your kids should be apologizing to you! I get it. But, if you want a relationship with your kids, you’re not going to get it by making them feel bad or guilty or wrong. They’ll just avoid you.) Start slow. Start small. Don’t pressure them. Just open a door and give them the opportunity to walk into it, if and when they’re ready.

      Now, I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear. (Sorry!) I’m also not saying that doing this will feel right or “fair” to you. But nothing about divorce is fair.

      If you want to have a relationship with your adult children again, you’ve got to forget about what’s “fair.” Instead, you have to do your best to create an atmosphere where they want to have a relationship with you. They’re adults. You can’t force them to see you or to talk to you. You can’t change them. You can only change yourself, and your approach to them.

      I know this probably isn’t what you wanted to hear. Again, I’m sorry for that. But I hope it helps.

      Karen

  • Thank you for this. My parents amicably divorced this year after 42 years of marriage. My father is ten years older than my mother (79) and wheelchair bound. In the divorce my father willingly gave my mother all of the assets (including a $300,000 home and acreage) and split his pension with her. My dad has no savings, a 25 year old car and no plans for long term care. My mom feels entitled to everything (since he was the one who wanted to split) and is completely unconcerned that he has nothing. She keeps trying to convince me that he doesn’t need anything and doesn’t understand my concern. Today she had my father call me to convince me he is very happy and doesn’t need anything. I am shocked to see the true nature of my parents and feel angry that my mom put my dad up to this.

    • Oh my! I can totally understand your anger. But, if I can play devil’s advocate here for a moment, how do you know that what you’re seeing now is the “true nature of your parents?” What if what you saw in the past was their true nature and what you’re seeing now is all of their hurt and pain and unresolved issues?

      I know that it sucks to have to see your parents this way. But if you can, try to cut them a break. They’re both doing the best they can. It sounds like your father is carrying a lot of guilt, while your mom is holding on to her anger. Right now, you have a choice of how you react to their questionable behavior. You can get sucked into their drama and get mad at both of them for doing stupid things. (You can be mad at your dad for having no life plan at 79. You can be mad at your mom for taking advantage of your dad.) Or, you can find a way to love them with all their imperfections and learn from their mistakes.

      You would probably be wise to have an honest financial conversation with your dad. How does he plan to support himself, now and in the future? What will he do if he gets sick? How will he take care of himself? Does he have a plan? Would he like you to help him make a plan and see if he’s eligible for any kind of government benefits which could help him out right now?

      While he may tell you that none of that is your business (and technically he’s right) the truth of the matter is he is NOT in a solid financial position right now. Does he really think that if he becomes unable to support himself, you’re going to let him huddle alone in some dingy apartment watching network television and eating cat food?

      What your father does with his life now is his business. (Sorry. I know that’s hard to hear. But if he actually is happy, you’ve got to back off and let him live his life.) But, if, because of his age, physical condition and financial situation, he becomes your responsibility, THEN you will have an interest in making sure that he maximizes whatever benefits he can so that he can have a decent quality of life until he dies.

      I’m so sorry you’re in this position. I wish I had better solutions for you.

      Best,

      Karen

  • My husband of 22 years just asked for a trial seperation. Our kids are 18 & 19 and both live at home. For financial reasons… I am moving to an apartment. I understand I have to give them the choice of where to live but I don’t think either will choose to leave their childhood home. I don’t know how to deal with the custody thing….??? They’re to old for custody arrangements but still young in alot of other ways. Do u have any advise for parenting this age group through this? This was a complete shock for me and the thought of not seeing my children daily is breaking my heart. I don’t want them to feel as though I am leaving them…

    • I understand completely. The difficulty is that at 18 years old your kids are legall adults. So where they live and who they live with is totally their choice. There is no custody of adult children.

      The best thing you can do to help your kids through this time is to talk to your kids. Explain why you’re the one who’s leaving and what that will mean for their future. If this “trial separation” is just a way to ease into divorce, then tell them that! Don’t lie to them (or to yourself!) by saying this is a “trial separation” when what you’re really doing is trying to separate your lives completely in a divorce. Don’t give them hope that you will all be back together as a family some day unless there is an honest chance that that can happen.

      Tell them that they’re welcome to come live with you. Do that BEFORE you rent an apartment. (If you invite them both to live with you in a one bedroom apartment they are more likely to see that as a hollow gesture. Even if they did want to live with you and leave their childhood home, would they want to go somewhere that they have no privacy and have to sleep on your couch?)

      Also, even if your kids aren’t going to live with you, that doesn’t mean you can’t see them. Arrange for times and places you can meet with them. Maybe they’ll come hang out with you regularly, even though they don’t live with you.

      Make it a point to join them in their activities whenever you can – i.e. go to their sporting events if they’re in sports etc. Take an interest in them and their lives. Try to do things with them that they like.

      Finally, you might want to check out this article on trial separation. It’s not specifically about adult children, but it might help you manage your trial separation in a much healthier way.

      Best,

      Karen

      • Hello, i am wondering why i get so sensitive and uncomfortable when my divorced parents of 20 years are now speaking..?? I am 50 now. Any advice? Thanks you
        Julie

        • Hmm. That’s an interesting question. Without knowing a whole lot more about you and your situation I really can’t give you advice about what’s bothering you and what to do about it. If I did, all I would be doing is guessing — which is definitely not helpful!

          What I can say is that this may be something worth exploring. The things that make us the most uncomfortable are usually the things we have to face in order to grow. So this may be an issue worth talking about to your parents (scary, I know!), or even seeing a therapist for a few sessions. If this is bothering you, it means you have some emotions about it. It’s worth your time and energy to explore them.

          Hope this helps.

          Karen

        • Hi Julie, I know this was posted a while ago but I just wanted to let you know that I feel the same. Since my parents split six years ago they have insisted on still trying to do holidays together as a family but it makes me so uncomfortable when they interact with each other now. I feel like this has ruined all of our lives.

  • Thank you Karen for an insightful article. I have been in a complex and very difficult marriage for 18 years. Lots have happened over the years – many bad moments but good moments too. I have no doubt that while I am not perfect, his actions have definitely caused the majority of issues in our marriage. But, the good news is that I am a lot stronger than I ever thought I was and I made a decision to stay in the marriage until my children are adults and in college which will be 4 years from now. (I have a special situation with an adult son with special needs who will need my care throughout his life). I found your article because I was curious of the impact of divorce on adult children. I’m sad to hear that they do have some of the same issues as younger children but I’m also glad to hear that the best remedies are those that I can perform (understanding their feelings of loss, not leaning on them for support, not taking sides, forcing myself to get along with my ex, etc.) I’ve been doing these things for quite some time now in my marriage anyway. I’ve also read that sometimes when the kids leave, some couples have found their way back to each other and if that happens for us great. But if not, it’s good knowing that I will be ok and that I will do the very best I can for my children. One thing I do wish for is someone to talk to during the difficult times of our marriage. I have decided not to divulge too much to my friends (although I trust and care for them) because I need their support to keep me grounded in my marriage and I know that it would be difficult for them to act normal knowing that I’m in pain. Plus if they knew half the things my hubby put me through they may throw him from a bridge! For now just having them around gives me relief but it does get really lonely not being able to just express myself freely to someone. And, I haven’t found any “Moms Staying in their marriage until their kids are out of the house” support networks around LOL. Humor definitely helps. Just writing in here does make me feel better though! Would love your thoughts.

    • Thanks for sharing yoru story! I’m glad you liked the article!

      What came to mind when I read what you wrote is that a good therapist could be a huge help for you. Here’s why.

      S/he could give you professional insight and perspective on whatever is going on with you. As a professional, a therapist is also bound to keep your secrets secret. And, with luck and a decent insurance plan, the cost could even be covered by your health insurance.

      If you don’t want to burden (or taint!) your friends or family, talking to a therapist may truly be your best option.

      Karen

  • I wish I had read this before my divorce 2.5 years ago. I was married 29 years. My children are now 20 and 26. I had enough of verbal abuse, lying and affairs (emotional affairs or more). The divorce happened in the midst of our son going through drug problems and a mental illness where he had to be hospitalized 7 times. It was a very stressful time to say the least. My son lived with me for a short time after the divorce. I don’t know if I handled any of this very well. I tried to explain to my son that the divorce was not his fault, it was a long time coming, etc. But he bought into my fantasy that our family was magical, special. The drugs and mental illness did not help with him coping. And frankly, I did not help since I was so focused on my own pain and hurt. My son was not well to begin with and he continued his spiral downward after the divorce and turned violent and abusive toward me. After his last hospitalization I told him he could no longer live with me (I had to call the police numerous times). He lived with his dad for a year. Now has his own apartment in the same town I live in (he is on disability and has quit high school and still doing drugs and has been in trouble with the law). He is also not speaking to me. Has cut me off. My heart breaks because I feel like I did not prepare him for the divorce. I was too wrapped up in my own hurt and pain (and i also had ovarian cancer after the divorce). I don’t think things will ever be the same. My daughter is more understanding, but she has also said hurtful things to me. My ex is playing the victim. And … I feel like I don’t have a family anymore. I don’t know what the answer is other than to let it go. There is the complication of the drug addiction with my son, and me not wanting to enable him. But the divorce weighs heavily on me, even after more than 2 years. I don’t know how to mend this.

    • Oh my! I can hear how much pain you are in. But, let me take a moment to set the record straight here.

      This is NOT all your fault! I can understand that your divorce weighs on you, but it sounds like your marriage was no picnic either! It also sounds like your son had lots of problems even before your divorce. How do you know that your son wouldn’t have ended up just as bad or worse than he is now, even without the divorce?

      Did you make mistakes in your divorce? Probably. Everyone makes mistakes. Not one single human being is perfect. Were you wrapped up in your own pain? Again, probably. But you’re human! Give yourself a break!

      Burying yourself in guilt helps no one. If you want to help your kids it starts with helping yourself. Admit that you were human and forgive yourself for your mistakes. Reach out to your daughter and forgive her too! If she said hurtful things about you it was probably because she was in pain too. Forgive her. Do your best to build a relationship with her. And keep the door open to your son, if and when he ever wants to have a relationship with you.

      I also suggest that you get help. If you can, find a good support group. It will help you feel less alone and less like a failure. If nothing else, Al-Anon might be a good place to start.

      Most of all, know that you will get through this. You’re not alone.

      Hang in there!

  • I wish I could show my dad this article. But even if I did, I doubt he’d read it or care much. I know, I shouldn’t assume, I should talk to him, but it’s hard and I’m to a point now of where I don’t much care to hear what he won’t say anyways.
    I’m 36 years old, my parents divorced 6 years ago. And it rocked my world.
    My parents raised us in a religious house hold where divorce was unheard of. My dad was even a preacher for years.
    And when he decided to leave my mom after 40 years together, he became selfish and distant. I once mentioned the hurt and pain it caused me, and he told me it had nothing to do with me. It was his life and he has to be happy he said.
    My dad has made me think that his family held him back from achieving his dreams. He’s said so many off handed comments about it. I always wanted to ask him “then why did you keep having children? If you didn’t like it after your first child, why have more? Why didn’t you walk away then? Why did you wait 40 years?” But I don’t have to courage to ask him.
    My mom tried so hard to get me to reach out to my dad the first year they separated. So I tried. I cooked him dinner a couple times a week and tried to create a relationship with him. Which I never really had without my mom present.
    And then he started dating a woman. A woman from my parents old church! And yes, it digusted me and angrered me. I never wanted my dad to choose her over me, I just wanted it to be separate. And instead, he choose her. Even when he could of had us both. He can’t see past my feelings to want anything to do with me, except when he needs a favor from me. And it breaks my heart.
    My grandfather died last week. (My moms dad) This man was a wonderful grandpa to me. He was my dads father in law for 40 years. And my dad did not attend the funeral. My dad did not send flowers. My dad did not call and tell me he was sorry for my pain. My dad did nothing.
    Dosent surprise me much, as he hasn’t attended a Christmas, birthday or thanksgiving in years. Maybe I’m wrong for not accepting his girlfriend in my life or at my family functions. But my mom comes to the get togethers also, and I don’t feel she should have to deal with it. And it’s ok if he dosent come because I won’t allow his girlfriend. But why can’t he at least want to call me just to say hi or have lunch with just him and I?
    Him and my mom stayed friendly. Well, On friendly terms.
    I called him on his birthday last month (and yes I went to see him) and his friend had just died. He was talking about how it makes you realize how important people are in your lives and how you have to truly embrace family. My heart soared and I thought “this is it! A breakthrough. He wants to be apart of my life more.” He then proceeds to say how much his girlfriend means to him.
    Thanks dad.
    He changed everything in his life. He now drinks, parties, stays out all night and lost most of his religion. That part is probably the hardest for me.
    It has taken me 5 years to realize that my husband is not my father. And I refuse to live in fear anymore that my husband will walk out on me like my dad did to my mom. God helped me realize that, not my dad.
    I did not intend to write anything. I’ve never told this story before. I keep it quiet and deal with the pain and hurt on my own and through prayer.
    Not one friend of mine has realized I’d be changed through this divorce. I was shattered, devastated and torn apart by it for a long time. And when I did quietly voice my hurt, I was dismissed as selfish. My husband has been great, but he dosent think divorce is a big deal. (Maybe cause his parents have been divorced since he was about 13? And His brother is divorced.) I’m glad to know other adults have experienced this. And that you’ve taken the time to write some wonderful advice for parents. Wonderful advice that my mom almost followed to a T.
    And it sure made a difference! My mom has been amazing through every step of it, even with her heart shattered, she put her children first many times.
    I know my dad loves me, probably as much as he knows how. But it still hurts even as a 36 year old.
    (I know this wasn’t the place to share my story, but once I started I couldn’t stop. Lol and it has made me feel better to get it all out loud!)

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story! It took courage!

      I know that there are A LOT of people out there just like you – people who have been hurt by their parents’ divorce even though they are adults. By sharing your story you may give them the courage to share theirs as well. At least they will know that they are not alone!

      Meanwhile, keep working to make peace with your past, and with your father. I know it hurts. But if you can break through, it will be worth it! If you can’t, at least you will know you tried.

      I wish you the best.

      Karen

  • Hi, I love your article, thank you so much.

    I am divorced myself, the divorce happened after 22 years of marriage and with 3 children, and the children were very young adults when the divorce occurred. In my case there is an element which you do not mention in your article, which concerns mental health situations. My wife was affected with a Borderline personality disorder (BPD), and frankly I did not know anything about BPD, and finally learned about it after my divorce through therapists who worked with me to help me out sort things. My BPD wife really imposed the divorce on me. The last straw for her I think that I was hinting to her that maybe she might be, I thought, Bi-Polar, and that we could investigate this with a therapist; she asked for divorce 3 days later, I was stunned, but I knew that I must not make any waves in her condition, as I knew peace was important for all of us if anyways her decision was taken. As everybody says, it was very tough, because we are so close to each other and the children, and then broken up.

    Today over 8 years after the divorce, I read your article and find that it is very well written and is a checklist for me to keep for my children and whatever could be salvaged of the family for them in the best dispositions possible. But the reason I am writing this comment is that in the cases of some mental health issues, there are unfortunately mutual reasonable agreements between the divorced parents that cannot happen. In the case of a BPD, there is for example an identity void, as the BPD does not have a strong identity and needs to keep everybody focused on herself, either by generosity or by exclusion (to make this definition short), and in this regard the BPD could have developed (as a chameleon) multiple personalities could we say and adapt her dialog in split seconds with each person depending on if they are included or excluded from her focus on herself the BPD being “someone”, because when they are not the center of attention the BPD feels empty it is said by psychologists, and even the BPD say they feel empty (suicide thoughts, etc). I personally think that it has something to do with the BPD’s upbringing, in parts where they might have been raised in a way that they did not have strong reference points from their own parents, and were or felt abandoned, as where we all need as children to (ideally) indefectibly trust our parents.

    So to any who read this, then I feel that the reference when there is a mental health issue but I can speak only for Borderline personality disorder (BPD), is that the question of dialog between the divorced parents can be literally “impossible”, and in my case I find that there needs to be (if it is possible) a family at large, education that is done on the problem (BPD), otherwise the BPD person, and their illness, will take control of the potential family interactions. It is “really” not simple, but things need to be managed according to the BPD (or other mental health) issues.

    I hope this helps as a complement to your otherwise “very” useful article for me, that I need to read though through the filter of BPD which modulates some of your recommendations and prevents others, and so adds a layer of complexity which, people and family in general do not apprehend, thinking that solutions are straightforward, it is not so with BPD.

    Thank you !

    • Thank you so much for your comment! I agree, adding mental health issues into a divorce comlpicates everything. Having reasonable conversations with someone who is mentally ill can be very challenging. It can definitely change the way your divorce goes and what you should or shouldn’t do while you’re going through the process!

  • I went through a divorce 3 years ago following a 34 year marriage. I had discovered my ex was cheating with a woman for approximately 6 years. It was her husband who contacted me and I was with my 2 sons in Atlanta when I received the email.

    What bothered me was my youngest son’s reaction. Now, I know you say not to look to your children for emotional support. Believe me, I would never want to sever their relationships with their father. But he witnessed the initial shock I suffered and the emotional pain that followed. He knew I was a wife who doted on her husband. Yet, when we came back to San Francisco, he said nothing to his father about his actions and acted like everything was normal. If he had only shown some sense of outrage, just once, I would’ve felt vindicated.

    As hurt and baffled as I was, I tried to make excuses for him—maybe that’s just his personality. But then, a few weeks later, another son sent out a group email which included the family and extended family. My ex made some comment bragging he was the greatest father. To this, my niece replied, “You sound a lot like Trump.” Well, to this innocuous comment, my youngest son exploded in outrage. How on earth, I asked myself, could he be so defensive about such a trivial matter on his father’s behalf, when he didn’t raise a peep about the terrible deceptions directed toward me?

    So three years later, I outwardly have a warm relationship with this son and he likewise continues to have a close relationship with his father, who he often speaks of with admiration. But inwardly, I have a lot of hurt and rage and can’t seem to get over the matter, even though the anger toward my ex has mostly dissipated.

    • If you want a real relationship with your son, you need to deal with your own pain and anger first. (Sorry. I know that’s probably not what you want to hear.) The best way to do that would be to work with a therapist in your area who has experience in working with family relationship issues. S/he will bein the best position to guide you on how you can let go of your pain so that you don’t feel so angry with your son.

      Finally, remember that there is probably a LOT you don’t know. Judging your son isn’t helping either of you, or your relationship. (Sorry!)

      I know what you’re going through hurts. I can hear it in what you’ve written. Dealing with that hurt is the only thing that will make it go away. Ignoring it, or pretending that everything is “fine” when you don’t feel fine, won’t.

      Hope this helps.

      Karen

  • I’m wondering how your suggestions might alter in an abusive situation. For a partner who is attempting to leave an abusive relationship after a long term marriage with now adult children, what would you suggest might be some helpful tips?

    • There are so many things that could affect what you say or do in that situation that I really can’t answer that question. The answer also depends on what kind of abuse you’re talking about and whether the abuse is ongoing or not.

      What you might want to do is to talk to someone who specializes in whatever kind of abuse you’re experiencing – whether it’s domestic violence, narcissism, emotional abuse etc. Someone who knows all the details of your situation, and is a mental health specialist, would be able to answer this for you better than I can.

  • Hi Karen!! I just found out that my parents are getting a divorce. I’m only 17, and it’s still taking quite a toll on me. I saw it coming to be fair, I want my mother to be happy. I don’t resent my father, but I am upset with how he treated my mother, and he has habits of trying to guilt trip me and my younger siblings. He wasn’t a bad dad, but I always sorta knew he wasn’t exactly ready to have kids, since he’s always out drinking (along with being unfaithful) to my mother, and has always been a bit unavailable emotionally. I’ve already come to a conclusion that it’s probably due to him not having a dad as a kid, but it shouldn’t excuse his behavior. When I noticed myself having those bad traits in my last relationship, I hated it and changed myself for the better. I just wish my father could do the same. My mom did so much of the work with the kids, and he says he wants to take us from my mother. Not saying that he doesn’t care about us or anything, but he’s always either at work or out drinking somewhere after. That would leave us with my grandma. She’s not…bad, but she always complains about having to pick up after us, and I wanna stay with my mom. I don’t know how to deal with switching between homes, or having to hear my dad talk badly about my mother even though she’s done nothing wrong. I’m mostly scared of our family being broken up between me and my siblings. Including also finances and transportation for school. I’m not an adult yet legally, so I don’t really know what to do right now. I’m also worried about my younger siblings, too, since they’re kind of troublemakers. If you have any advice you could give me, I would appreciate it very very much!!

    • I have to say that, even though you may not be “an adult” yet, your maturity level is higher than that of some people who are twice your age! You’re amazing!

      As for what you can do to make a difficult situation better for you and your siblings, that’s a bigger question.

      First of all, I need to tell you that, technically, this is NOT your job! It is what your parents need to be doing! On the other hand, I also know that life isn’t perfect. Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, even when you shouldn’t have to be the one doing it.

      Because you’re 17 you have an advantage over your younger siblings. You can speak up a little more than they can. So you might want to start by having an adult conversation with your father. (Again, I’m sorry you have to be the adult in the situation!) If you can, just tell him that you understand that divorce is hard. You get that he may not like your mom. But, I think it’s also fair to tell him that you don’t appreciate him talking badly about your mom. Try to keep your conversation as neutral as possible. Don’t bother telling him that your mom did nothing wrong. You don’t have to defend your mom. Your dad has his own opinions and you’re not going to change them. But what you can tell him is that traveling between two homes, and dealing with the divorce is hard enough on you and your siblings as it is. You don’t need the extra negativity that comes from one parent talking badly about the other. (Btw, if you talk about this from the perspective that it applies to both of your parents, it may make it easier for your dad to hear. That way you’re not accusing him of anything. You’re just stating a preference.)

      I should warn you that, while having that conversation may be necessary, I can’t say how well your dad will take it. That depends on him and his personality. But, if you think it will work, it’s definitely worth a try. (And if you think it will be a disaster, feel free to disregard everything I just said!)

      I would also suggest having a conversation with your mom. It sounds like she may be more open. I would focus that conversation on what you can do to keep the family together. Brainstorm ways you can make things easier for you kids as you travel from home to home. If you have your driver’s license and access to a car, you might be able to help with some of the driving. I know that you might not relish the idea of driving your brothers and sisters around. BUT it provides an opportunity for you guys to talk with them. Remember, when you’re driving you have a captive audience! It’s not like they’re going to get out of the car and walk if they don’t like what you’re saying.

      As for them being troublemakers, many times kids act out because they’re feeling bad and they don’t know what else to do with their feelings. Your parents’ divorce may be affecting them more than you know. While their behavior is NOT your problem, if they get too out of control, you may be able to suggest to your mom that she get them to talk to the school counselor, or maybe even get them a therapist for a while. Just remember, though, this is NOT your job! You can only do so much at 17!

      Finally, the best thing you can do for everyone (yourself included!) is to simply do your best. Stay as positive as you can as often as you can. Focus on doing your best no matter what your circumstances may be. (And don’t beat yourself up if you’re not perfect all the time!) Also, remember, to have some fun yourself! I know life may be tough right now, but there is always something to be grateful for, and something you can enjoy if you try!

      When you do all that, you will set an amazing example for your siblings. (Hopefully, your example will rub off!) You will keep your parents from worrying about you. Most importantly, you will also be making the best out of a difficult situation and (hopefully) will even be making yourself a little happier too!

      I wish you the best!

      Karen

  • Hello my name is Fred I had a loving and caring family I am from a family of 7 total counting my parents my parents got divorced when I was 19 20 years old
    growing up as a child I was a very happy I had four brothers and one sister who I love and care for very deeply I lost my brother in a car accident when he was he was 18 Idid not make things any easier to make a long story short both my parents constantly knocked each other down my mother hates my father and my father constantly talks about my mother to this day there’s my mother this has made me very unhappy I lived the life of guilt I love my parents but the same time sometimes I feel as if I hate them I tried to get along with them sometimes it’s very difficult a lot of stories told throughout the years and thinks I found out as I got older which really crushed me deep inside I am 63 years old I am divorced also I divorced my first wife when my son was born we get along fine I never talk bad but his mother at all to him loves me very deeply I love him very deeply as a matter I’m fat I named my son after my brother I lost right now I’m going through some tough times with my mother I just can’t seem to get along with her I love her very deeply but every time I’m around her I just want to shout out and tell her my true feelings I don’t mean to take it out on her but she just doesn’t listen and she only sees one side of the story which is hers oh I wish you would get with say Desi story she knows but she was wrong for some of the stuff she said and did but I can’t get that out of her and my father is just as bad constantly tell me how baby hates you now he at the toughest I’m going to the divorce I thought he was going to commit suicide he would have took my mom back in her heart not only does it tell me how bad he would hurt her and punch her in the face there’s times that I don’t want to be around neither one of them at the same time I love them both very deeply I’m kind of lost world all my mother ever says she’s tired of being hurt she never gives much thought of how anyone else feels for some reason makes me even guiltier like I said I’m 63 years old and it still bothers me to this day thank you for listening to me thank you for listening to me at least I feel like I’m talking to somebody

    • You’re welcome. If you want someone who can listen to you in a much deeper way, the person you really need to talk to is a therapist. S/he can help you figure out why you’re in the situation that you’re in and what you need to do to change it. A good therapist will also help you feel less isolated. I highly recommend that you find one.

  • I stumbled upon this article, because yesterday morning my dad called me saying that he was leaving my mom. I’m 21 and my sister is almost 18, and we have all been struggling with my mom’s alcoholism for many years now. She has been emotionally abusive to all of us, especially my dad, when he has always been a wonderful husband who fixes everything in their house, cooks gourmet food every night, all on top of being the breadwinner of our family. She took him for granted for so long, but for some reason I thought everything was fine, because it has been like that for as long as I can remember. They still have tons of friends, go out multiple times a week, and are generally fun people, but my mom still drinks every night and has the tendency to embarrass us when she becomes belligerent at social events. Despite my dad’s attempts to improve their marriage and rekindle the romance, he finally gave up, and my mom is devastated. She has been calling me to beg me to ask him to give her another chance, and I have tried, but I must admit that my dad’s feelings are completely valid. He wants to handle this amicably, but my mom is trying to repair the marriage and go to counseling; he says it’s too late and doesn’t believe she will change. I really don’t want them to split up; ever since being in college I have become friends with them and enjoy hanging out with them. We always have a lot of fun together, and that’s probably why I thought everything was okay. I know it’s not going to change my life too drastically, but the more I think about the future the more devastated I feel. I always imagined them growing old together and someday taking my children to visit their grandparents. I feel so bad for my mom, because her life is being ripped out from under her, and I’m worried about her drinking and ability to take care of herself. I want them both to be happy, but there’s nothing I can do.
    My dad stuck around for so long, because he wanted my sister and I to grow up with both parents, but like you mentioned, memories of my childhood now seem tarnished. I don’t know if my dad was “faking it” through some of my happiest memories. I went my entire life thinking that that’s what love is, when most of it was misery and lies.
    I have barely stopped crying since yesterday morning, especially with my mom constantly calling me for support. I haven’t been able to talk about this with my friends, since a lot of their parents know mine, and I think I should let my mom decide how/when to let people know. This article really helped me understand how this type of situation should be handled, and I would appreciate any advice pertaining to these circumstances!

    • Oh my! I am so sorry for what you are going through.

      Reading what you wrote, though, there are a few things I feel compelled to say. Number one is that your parents’ marriage is NOT your responsibility!!! (I know. That’s not how it feels. Just know that the last thing you need right now is to heap responsibility or guilt on yourself for something that is totally out of your control.)

      I know that you don’t want your parents to split up. I know you enjoy being with them. But, only THEY can decide what happens in their relationship. Not you. Whether they split or stay together is their choice. While you may have an opinion about their choice, you don’t get to make their choice for them.(Sorry!)

      Next, it is not your responsibility to support your mother! Yes, I know that it FEELS like it is! I know you want to! Believe me, I get it. I’m not suggesting that you kick your mother to the curb when she’s down. And, at the moment, while everything is so new and emotions are so raw, I can understand that you want to support your mom. Just recognize that you can’t do that forever. So you might want very gently start suggesting to her now that she get outside help. She could use a good therapist. If she wants to save her marriage, she might also want to start by getting clean and sober. But, again, that’s not your choice to make. It’s hers. If the opportunity presents itself, you can suggest to her that she might want to join AA. But if you aren’t comfortable making that suggestion, I get it. Again, this is NOT your responsibility!

      Another thing you might consider is talking to your dad about your concern over your mom’s ability to care for herself. That’s a legitimate concern. It may help for your dad to be aware of your concern as he goes through the divorce. Just know that, your dad is only human. If your mom wants to drink herself into a bad place, ultimately no one can stop her. (Sorry!)

      Finally, get some support for YOU! It doesn’t sound like your parents will be in a position to listen to you, and help you grieve your loss right now. Your sister is younger and is probably just as upset as you. A good therapist, or a support group, can be a Godsend. (Yes, you can lean on your friends. But it still doesn’t hurt to work with a professional too!)

      I know that nothing I say or you do can stop the pain right now. But, I hope this helps a little bit.

      Hang in there!

      Karen

  • Quite a lovely write up. The fact is, divorse affects children irrespective of their age, so adult children of divorse parents also face a crisis not knowing who to go and visit first, whose to blame and how to explain to the grand children. When one of such parents has BPD, the kids can end up resenting thier parents.

    There will however almost always be divorse

  • Good morning Karen,

    Thank you for an extremely valuable article! Our girls are 17 and 20 and my husband walked out in January after 22 years.
    He is diagnosed Bipolar 2. I firmly believe this is all brought on by mental illness. It has taken our marriage. We married later in life and we both made a pact that divorce was not an option. He was not diagnosed then. I’ve stood by him through being uprooted twice, lost business, drinking, drugging, bankruptcy (financial ruin) and more.
    He left because I have disrespected him. I do not point fingers as I know it takes 2 to tango! I’m left with the house at my request, so our youngest could stay in the home until she graduates. Our oldest is at college. I can’t afford the house (teacher) and he’s not helping with upkeep. We do not own and can’t break lease. He rented a $1600 apartment and furnished it going deeper in debt(BP) but is not fulfilling current obligations. He demanded divorce in December at Christmas but we are separated as I write this.
    I filed for divorce a week ago with a financial gift. I just can’t wait for the next shoe to drop. My husband is paying but not nearly enough as we have college tuition, college apps, senior year and competitive sports (college bound). Oh and the house. We are devastated as he dropped the bomb in 4 sentences and then got up and walked 10 feet to sit down and read a book. He stated for the last couple of years that I’ve been angry/disrespectful and need to see a therapist. I’ve been through menopause, a bad career change, my mother passed and 3 surgeries in the last 2 years. Kind of a lot.
    Finals/ SAT tests, summer internships are coming up and I need to tell them and there’s no good time! Our oldest is back at college. Any advice on telling them?
    Therapy? I just can’t be his caregiver anymore…

    I am strong at 55 but you’re right…THIS JUST SUCKS! My friends tell me I’m a lot happier since he left.

    Again thank you for this wonderful article and for any insight you might be able to give.

    • You’re welcome!

      How do you tell your adult children about your divorce? Well, it may not be much of a surprise since you and your spouse are already separated. Even still, it’s a sensitive subject.

      Other than the tips in the article, I would also suggest that you follow all the same steps that you would follow if your kids were small and you are getting a divorce. (You might want to check out this article on How to Tell Your Kids You’re Getting a Divorce.)

      Hope this helps!

      Karen

  • My parents got divorced when I was 10 after many years of problems. It was terribly difficult to deal with their divorce when I was a child; however, it is still difficult even though I’m now in my 60s. Both parents remarried years ago, and both sets of parents/stepparents detest the others. My dad’s wife is still so childishly jealous of my mom, and my stepdad tells me all about my father’s shortcomings every time I visit. I’ve tried telling all of the parents/stepparents that this is painful to me, but none of them seem to care. Now that I’m in my 60s, I find that I am longing for release. Yes, I’m looking forward to the time when I don’t have to drive 5+ hours, pay for motel rooms/food/gas, and then spend one day with Dad/wife and the next day with Mom/husband and hear the same old boring c***. I’m probably a jerk for feeling this way, but I’ve been dealing with this ridiculous junk for 50+ years and am just sick of it all. Longevity runs in both sides of the family and both parents are in their late 80s and doing fine. My two brothers feel the same way. I don’t really need advice as there is nothing to be done but endure it to the bitter end. I don’t think about it much until I schedule a trip over there, and then I dread it and while I’m there can’t wait to leave. It would have been nice if my parents had gotten along and stayed married. Maybe I could have enjoyed being with them and having a shared history. What a drag.

  • My husband of 29 years was found cheating on me with a stripper. I found out when a call came through on his phone when talking to a repair man. He tried to deny it, but I told him I was not stupid. He said, it was a stripper he had been seeing for sometime. That he had not loved me for a decade. My son had just gotten married a couple months earlier and he had always been his hunting and farming buddy. My husband became a diabetic and turned fifty too. this was all within a few months. I was very supportive of helping him live a new lifestyle what I guess that was not enough. What really is killing me is my son and daughter in law not wanting anything to do with me at this point. They have been married for over two years and had a baby while the divorce had been going on. My inlaws and husband have a very successful farming business and basically my mom and I have financially nothing to offer like they do. They have basically bought them off. I was so blindsided by the divorce and my son is my only child. I have tried to reach out to them but all I get is rude
    messages back. I have been seeing a therapist since all this has happened. My son and I have always been close. I divorce took two years because it was a farm operation. I was not given much from the farm or a home after 29 years of marriage. I just feel so lost. I never give up hope.

    • Don’t ever give up hope!

      It’s also good that you’ve been seeing a therapist. It sounds like you need all the support you can get right now!

      I wish I had some sage words of wisdom that would magically re-establish your relationship with your son, but unfortunately, I don’t. I would suggest that you don’t barrage him with too many messages. You want to let him know that you love him and you’re here for him if he ever wants to talk. You want to let him know that your door is always open for him. But, other than that, let him be. (I know it’s hard!) But the more you push your son to have some kind of a relationship with you, the more you will push him away.

      Right now, the only thing you can do is to take care of yourself. Work on being the best “you” possible! Keep learning. Keep growing. Build a new life for yourself. In time, your son may reach out to you. Meanwhile, other than leaving the door open for him, there’s not a lot you can do.

      Hang in there!

      Believe me, you’re not alone.

      Karen

  • This advice does not work with a divorce from a toxic marriage from a narcissist. It is impossible to get along with someone who constantly tries to hurt you and triangulate you with other women. I have simply told my 23 year old daughter, that I will sit out events that her father wants to attend and come to the ones he doesn’t. It hasn’t been much of a problem because he only wanted to attend to harass me. My kids know and actually saw some of the emotional abuse but are having a difficult time processing it. I understand and I stick to the facts. Sure I made my mistakes, perhaps leaning on my daughter too much during a very difficult time, but I always had her best interests at heart and encouraged her to move out when her father offered her a year of paid rent. I told her that I needed to heal in my own time and it wasn’t her responsibility. Getting along with my ex, well, I plan to ignore and go gray rock as many people recommend. I am hoping that my daughter will one day appreciate her mother’s strength and not make the same mistakes that I did.

  • Hello Karen,
    I could really use your help as I am very worried about telling our 27 and 32 year old children about our divorce. I recently discovered that my husband has been seeing prostitutes and call girls for years and years; although I have suspected it for a long time I discovered some videos that offered no doubt that he has been seeing them multiple times a week for years. My kids know nothing about it (although I think my son has suspected it). My husband has a sexual addiction and I feel victimized and violated by his life choices. But that’s about me and I understand that is what I must work through without involving my children. What I am most worried about is how to tell our kids in a way that we don’t hide what caused us to break up (otherwise there are just lies piled upon lies) but don’t get into any details that will hurt them even more. We cannot say he is in love with another woman because they will question why he was always home at night, weekends, etc. How can we make them understand we will never be together again without having to go into detail explaining? How can my husband look anything but a dirty old man if we tell them the truth about his frequenting prostitutes and call girls? My husband does not see that he has a sex addiction and is not introspective in the least, but he is obviously very invested in not having his ex-wife badmouth him in front of the kids. From my point of view, I just don’t know how to explain to them why our marriage broke up without spilling details that would shock them even more than they shocked me, but also not telling lies or hiding truths to make them even more angry with me for the divorce. It is bad enough they must face the truth of their father’s lies without having to also face their mother painting a bright happy (lying) picture of “we both want to do our own thing”. I don’t want them to take sides, but without telling lies about the reason for our breakup (and further enabling my husband), how can we make them not hate him? Do you have any advice? It breaks my heart to think that the very close relationship I’ve always had with my kids is never going to be the same, but how can I minimize their heartbreak and anguish? thanks for listening!

    • Let me start by just saying, I’m so sorry you have to be going through this! Kudos to you for wanting to keep the worst from your kids. Now you have to find the happy medium between pretending to be Sally Sunshine and divulging all every detail of your husband’s misbehavior to your kids.

      Step one could be getting on the same page about this with your husband. If he shares your desire to protect your kids (which it sounds like he does) it would be helpful to talk with him about how you can tell the truth without being too graphic. Where you draw that line depends on you. But my guess is that they’re going to know that he was dabbling with someone on the side. They don’t necessarily need to know who he was involved with, how many women they were, or that they were prostitutes. But they’re probably going to figure out that he cheated.

      You can be vague and just say that something came between you. It was something you couldn’t overlook. The details are not their business. But they need to know that it was something serious. (You’re right. Saying “we just grew apart” isn’t going to cut it. They’ll know you are lying. And, quite honestly, you shouldn’t have to damage your relationship with your kids over this. Lying won’t protect them. Telling them enough of the truth for them to understand your marriage is over, without divulging details, is probably going to work the best.) You want them to know that you’re not taking your divorce lightly. But they also need to know that you are NOT going to share details with them.

      Whatever you say to them, you and your husband both need to be prepared for the question, “Did someone have an affair?” They may not ask. But, if your son has suspected it anyway, you have to be prepared for the question. You also should be prepared, not to defend your husband as a husband, but to defend him as a father. He may have been a lousy husband, but if he was a good father and he loves your kids, you can reiterate that without lying about anything.

      Also, know that, even though they’re adults, your kids will take their cues to a certain extent from you. If you are histrionic, or vindictive, or act like a victim, you will get them all riled up too. On the other hand, if you can control your emotions enough to let them know that you’re angry and sad over this, but that there is no point in throwing around blame, they’ll be a little calmer too. Children (even adult children) learn by example more than anything else.

      Hope this helps.

      Karen

  • Yep – spot on. Thank you SO MUCH for this.
    My parents divorced last year when I was 39. My mom left my dad for another man and for the first couple of months I wasn’t sure if I’d ever speak to her again. Now, I have a great relationship with her, and I’m working on accepting her new husband, but my relationship with my dad has gone down the toilet. My sister is the opposite – she has become the primary support for our dad but has stopped talking to our mom. It’s put a wedge between us.
    One thing I’d add to this list is the effect on the adult child’s own family. I am not just a son, but I’m a dad and husband too. My wife and kids have been affected by my parents’ divorce and need to know how to navigate it for themselves. I want to help my wife work through her role as a daughter-in-law of divorce, which is a stressful line to walk. I want to teach my kids how to move forward as grandchildren, which includes drawing some new boundaries, breaking some old traditions, and, in our case, losing relationships with some of their cousins.
    The whole thing just sucks, and I hate that anybody has to go through it.

    • Thank you for pointing out that the adult child’s own family has to navigate all of this too! That is definitely a reality, too.

      Also, I agree with you. The whole thing does suck! … but it happens!

      Just keep hanging in there. Hopefully, things will get better with time.

      Karen

  • Im struggling with my adult children of 20 and 23. My now ex husband left set a new life and new business up with a much younger colleguge. Denied there was any affair but the emotional and possible sexual affair had been going on for 2 years. I was never able to catch him as It was when he was working away and I had work and the family things to deal with. He always made sure I had the lions share of responsibility and family arrangements so I was really busy, allowing him freedom. Collegues said they always thought something was going on, There were photos of her on his phone, all of a uddent I was not allowed to go on his work events, he would postpone family events with me and the children or extended family if there was work events on involving the younger collegue. At the start I phoned her boyfriend and he had asked her was there anything going on between them as he suspected an affair. I believe the affair ended as soon as they set up the business, which is what she had planned. I was with this man I dont currently recognise since I was 16 years old he was nearly 17 he was the love of my life as I was his. Affer the buisness was set up, within months photographs of them together ceased and he quickly moved onto to another women who he currently rents a home with. He had accrued massive debts and I had to sell the family home, whilst he partied and enjoyed life having run away from his home in England to Scotland where she was and the new buisness was formed. My children did not speak to him for quite a while but are now on speaking terms. He has always denied the affair and justified his leaving as ‘ we fell out of love’!
    He has never apologised or had the intergtity to admit his affair and all he did to us all. He hasnt ever dealt with it and left me to deal with it all.well infact he just left me for dead, at the same time our daughter was leaving for university and my career was in bits. It was at the point when he sent me a text saying ‘i need another 3 months to understand my feelings – dont contact me unless its urgent. At this point the emotional limbo was trully breaking me. I phoned him and I asked what was going on – his response was without care or emotion ‘ im not ready to come home yet…. divorce is a bit knee jerk and uneccessary … so I just think more separation. My response was Im divorcing you …. with the addition of expletives. I was broken for a time but I knew I could not stay with, or wait for a man who valued me so little, I was worth more than that. Ive healed and Im much stronger for knowing I was in a controlling relationship without actually knowing it.
    I think i deserve an apology and a conversation with him and I want colsure but he will not meet _ unbeliveable after what he has done.
    I do struggle with the children seeing him and when he let my daughter down this week and did not make the planned coffee, using a feeble excuse she was justifiably upset, as was I on her behalf. Her older brother defended their dad and said it was fine etc, i was so upset and explained it was not okay. At this point he said ‘mum its been nearly 3 years now your happy, he’s happy move on. It tried to explain even though a person is happy the pain its left me with is horrendous, no clousure just him running away. Ive had lots of counselling and Im getting over my abandonment issues but they are still there. He said his dad doesnt want to discuss things and thats probably best – just leave it.They dont really talk about any of that stuff! I dont actully think it should be his dads decision after what he has done.He should have to face things like I have had to for all these years.
    My son and daughter have always had a close relationship with me and each other but this is placing a strain on our relationship. I dont want to allow him to pinch any more time from me or create any more pain for me and my children.
    What stratergies can I use to help things ?

    • It sounds like you’re still very angry with your husband. Whether you see it or not, that anger is affecting you. It’s affecting your relationship with your kids. It’s affecting your ability to live your life on your terms.

      I can understand that you want closure. The problem is, as long as you wait for your ex to apologize for everything that he did wrong, you put the key to your life in his hands.

      What’s more, you may NEVER get the closure you’re looking for from your ex. (Sorry.) Most people don’t return to their exes years after a divorce, admit they did all kinds of horrible things during their marriage, and apologize profusely. Human beings just do not work that way. Your ex sees things from his point of view. He may not be willing to admit, even to himself, that he did something wrong. So, if you are waiting for your ex to apologize, I’m afraid you’re going to be waiting until the day you die, and maybe even long after that!

      Instead of focusing on what you want your ex to do (which you can’t control) it might be more productive for you to focus on why it is so important for you to get your ex to apologize to you. What is it that you’re really looking for? What do you want to feel? (A good therapist can help you dive into those questions more deeply.)

      I understand that your ex hurt you deeply. But hanging on to that hurt is only hurting you more. What’s worse, it’s hurting your relationship with your kids.

      I apologize if this came across as being too harsh. But it sounds like you’re a wonderful woman. You deserve to be free of the toxic emotions you’re struggling with. You can find that freedom, and that peace. But you have to be willing to let go and move on.

      Hope this helps.

      Karen

  • Well, I’ll be the one eating cat food at age 80. I put the kids through college, and my wife got all of my money except for $100,000 in an IRA. She abruptly left me and them behind, giving me 3 hours notice. The kids found out from their aunt that she was moving back in with her mother, brother and sister 4 hours away, and never returning. The kids were legal adults – one was due to start college in 2 weeks at age 18, and the other, age 21, has a severe learning disability, and had just flunked out of college. He had moved back home, and was about to start trying to work his way back into college by commuting to a local college. Four years later, both graduated, my son literally by the skin of his teeth.
    Their mother never visited them during that time, nor did she call them. She ordered me not to have any contact with her, and had previously told me how terrible a father I had been to our daughter, who had died 3 years before (she also kept insisting that our daughter had been murdered, for no apparent reason). I was such a terrible father that she decided I could handle the kids on my own.
    She will let the kids visit or call her, but they rarely do, because they are deeply hurt, having lost their sister, and then had their mother abandon them.
    Although the law views 18-year-olds as adults, they really are not. I dealt with car accidents (4 in the first year), college deans and countless other problems during that time, including trying to answer the question of why their mother never calls them hen the other kids were complaining their their parents call or visit too much while in college.
    For those who think that kids become adults at age 18, please think again, and don’t ignore/abandon your kids when they hit 18. Even if you hate your husband or wife. You’re a parent for life.

    • I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter. I wish there was more I could say. But, other than telling you that you sound like an awesome father, there’s not much more to say.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

  • I am a divorced father of two adult children since Nov 2014. A boy and a girl. One again I have to spend the holidays alone. That includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day and Easter Sunday. This has been going on since 1995 when my son was born. My ex bad mouthed me and my family. Its not fair and its very hurtful. My daughter said its just a holiday. I am so sick of her lack of compassion and of always being alone. Its very depressing. What can I do? She takes me for granted. She wanted to go out for my birthday this past Sunday. She does not work yet. I got no card, had to pay for dinner and did not even get a birthday card. Then she always asks me for money but I told her I can no longer support her and she has to get a job. It felt like she was there for an obligation not because she was interested in being there. I told her prior to Sunday to make me some dinner but chose not to. She wouldn’t dare do this to my ex and her family. Both my kids live with their mother and only 2 minutes from my condo but they never call or come and see me. My daughter cannot take that I am depressed. Gee I wonder why that is? Even on Father’s Day my ex made them see their great-grandfather first and their grandfather when I wanted them to be with me at noon. Instead, they have a long day and spend only 2 or 3 hrs at most with me because of travel. Thankfully, my ex father-in-law and the ex great grandfather died not too long again. I wonder what excuse my ex wife will give our kids this year to spend less time with me. Can you help me? I am tired of being hurt and alone.

    • I’m so sorry to hear how hurt and alone you are. I can tell you are in a lot of pain.

      It sounds like your kids have not spent holidays with you for many years. I’m sure that must be painful. But, at this point, I don’t know what you can do to change that. It sounds like both of your kids are adults (legally anyway.) So you can’t force them to do anything. You can’t control them. But you can control you.

      It is still a few weeks from Thanksgiving. If you want to have a better holiday, you might want to make plans to go somewhere and do something that day that does NOT involve your kids. Go to a different family member or friend’s house. If you have nowhere you can go, consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter that day. Or, make plans to prepare and eat your own Thanksgiving dinner and maybe go to a movie. While you would, of course, prefer to be with your kids on Thanksgiving, that doesn’t seem likely no matter what you do. So find something to do that day that DOES make you happy.

      I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear. I apologize in advance. But the way I see it, each of us is responsible for his/her own happiness. By waiting for your kids to make you happy you are doing nothing other than depressing yourself. You’re also putting all of your power in their hands. They don’t seem to be using that power wisely. So take back control and start living your own life. Not only will you be happier that way, but once you are happier they just might start coming around more.

      Finally, I would strongly suggest you start working on your depression. (Maybe you already are! If so, awesome!) If you’re not, get a therapist. Join a support group. All of that will help too.

      I wish you the best.

      Karen

  • Gosh I am not the only one! Am in my 50s and the only adult child of extremely acrimoniously divorced parents who do not talk, except in courts of law (and they divorced 40 years years ago); I still face having to visit both of them during the holidays, they live in very different parts of the country, as do I, so a large part of my precious holidays are spent on trains and coaches (I don’t drive) to visit them. Added to that I have ADHD which both of them just choose to ignore; it’s not that they are not nice people it’s just that they choose not to understand – but finding this site helps as I can take heart from the fact that I am not the only one – thank you!

  • (Note: this nearly duplicate reply was edited by me for spelling errors and more clarity.)

    Dear Ms. Covy,
    Your article and the follow-up comments from other readers are so helpful. I was surprised to learn you are a divorce attorney instead of a therapist, but your insight, perspective, and advice are truly spot-on. Thank you! My (long-winded) reply is nothing you haven’t heard, yet, but perhaps my scenario will strike a chord with other readers facing similar situations. I feel less alone having read others’ stories and sharing mine in return.

    My husband and I are 54 and have been married for nearly 29 years. We have two adult children (daughter finishing college; son two years graduated). Soon, we will be full-fledged “empty nesters,” so the timing reminds me of the timing of our parents’ marriages ending. His parents divorced at 25 yrs while we were dating in college; mine separated two weeks after our 1.5-year engagement and divorced precisely three weeks before our wedding day. His father remarried three months before our wedding day–lots of drama swirled on “our” day. We’ve dealt with the aftershocks of our parents’ divorces our entire marriage and while raising our kids. Neither one of us received or sought therapy, and I now see that was a mistake. I’m glad to hear you say it’s never too late to seek therapy. That’ll be my next step.

    Our biggest promise to each other and our kids is that we will “NEVER” divorce, as we desperately don’t want to repeat the cycle and pass on its excruciating pain for all the points you listed. Our kids have had to witness our stress, experience it first-hand themselves, and deal with four sets of grandparents. Three out of four of them remarried, so there are step-grandparents involved. (My husband’s sister divorced and remarried with kids, so that affects all of us, too.) Neither was an amicable divorce. Long-term affairs occurred on both sides, and my father married his “mistress” (perhaps that’s an antiquated term). My mom was not a “peach” (control-driven), but she is the only parent whose ex married the person with whom he had the affair–you can imagine the extra tension!

    My mom leaned on me for emotional support from “Day One” and still does. As early as July, I will get anxious and physically ill about the upcoming holidays trying to manage the sides and be fair to all! There is always a lurking layer of sadness at family events and holidays. I always felt (still feel?) responsible for my mom’s happiness after my dad left, and she actually said my twin brother and I, “held a percentage of fault,” for the break-up! Truly abusive from all angles, indeed. I also carry the thought that my husband will, too, eventually cheat on me (though he gives no signs) as a result of our fathers’ infidelities affecting my trust. I know that’s unfair to my husband, but as daughter/wife/mother, it’s imprinted in my head.

    Sadly, despite our promise to each other (and our kids) not to ever divorce, I see both of us making mistakes with communication, showing respect for each other–especially in front of our kids, and not acting a team. For example: My husband sides with our kids too often in front of me/behind my back and is too much their “friend” and the “good guy,” while I am and was the task-master/disciplinarian/”bad guy.” I’m often left out of text messages between them and him. When they do communicate via calls or texts, I get all the “problem” calls, and he gets all the “fun” and “life is good” ones. If they are unhappy with me in any way (justified or not), he will vocally support them in my presence at my expense, rather than taking me aside to discuss his perspective. I am not perfect–I tend to be more negative and on-edge than my husband, a bit too protective of the “kids” (still), and I am the worry-wart parent. But, I’m the family planner and the one who helps them reach their goals along the way. I do what I can to make their lives easier, but I realize that’s not always a good thing, either. I “stayed home” to raise them, so it’s natural for me to be in that role of “helper and giver.”

    To add to the marriage tensions, I’m (we’re) dealing with elder-care for my 82 yr old mom. She has serious health issues, lives in an “Assisted Living” residence, but still owns my (former) family’s two homes, each filled to the brim. My father left her with everything and chose to take not much more than a suitcase or two of his clothes. Now, I get to maintain and deal with it all as she ages, while he travels around the world with his wife!

    In closing, my marriage has suffered along the way. We both missed out on great marriage modeling and had no therapy, so I can understand why we have difficulties despite a long history together, starting as college sweethearts. I believe we very much want to stay in our marriage, “Til death do us part,” and I cannot imagine life without him. I don’t want to feel disrespected, though, and accept things as they are, as I’m sure they will get worse as our kids develop their own, separate lives. At 54, I’m finally admitting I and our marriage need a therapist. I sure don’t want to repeat history. It’s too painful. Prayers to all affected by divorce. Thank you, Ms. Covy, for your article, compassion, advice, and helpful website!

    • You’re absolutely welcome! Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sure it will strike a chord with others.

      Kudos to you, too, for being willing to work on your marriage and go to therapy now to try to make things better! If you and your husband are both committed to improving your marriage, you absolutely can do that.

      I also recommend the work of Drs. Harville and Helen Hendrix. They and their team of counselors offer amazing couples workshops. I have heard nothing but great reviews about them. That may be something else you and your husband want to check out. You can also find Dr. Harville Hendrix’ book: Getting the Love You Want on Amazon.

      Thank you again for sharing your story. I wish you the best.

      Karen

  • Thanks for this article Karen. I wish I had the courage to show it to my parents but I don’t think I do.

    My parents split six years ago. Mum and I were in Target and she just dropped it into conversation that her and Dad were splitting up and she would have to sell the house. I was gutted.

    I feel like I was involved too much. I was sitting in the room when my mum told my dad that she would be sleeping in the spare room from then on. I didn’t want to hear that, it should have been private. I had to help my dad find somewhere else to live because he was too broken to do it (the split wasn’t his idea). I had to listen to my mum telling me she hadn’t been happy for years but hadn’t wanted to be a single parent. So now I feel like the wonderful happy childhood I’d had was all fake and that my mum sacrificed her happiness for me. How am I meant to come to terms with that?

    In the end the family home wasn’t sold as my mum got some inheritance but the decision wasn’t reached quickly and for some reason I’m hugely attached to the house so every time she decided she was selling .. then she wasn’t .. then she was .. ripped me in two. I’m an older adult now and if she decides to sell again, my partner and I will buy it. It was actually a dream of mine to do so anyway, but the original vision was that mum and dad could get somewhere smaller together!! But the lack of a solid decision set my anxiety on edge for months and six years later I still struggle.

    My parents both stretched themselves to breaking point financially, meaning my brother and I didn’t get the help with buying our first homes that we otherwise would have. We have absolutely no right to expect it of course, but when we’re told through our teenage years that we will each get a deposit it’s a spanner in the works when it doesn’t happen, as you plan for the situation you think you’ll be in. So now even though they’re both almost 60 they will need to work for many more years due to the mess this has caused. My relationship also broke down quite quickly as I didn’t have the head space to think about anything else and it destroyed my faith in marriage anyway. I am completely happy with my new partner of three years now, but I could have been happy if it’d worked out with my ex, too! The situation tore us apart .. and left me financially screwed as we had to sort out the flat we shared.

    Dad is constantly making comments about how he’s on his own and I don’t visit enough. But I don’t visit enough because I know the conversation will turn to loneliness and missing my mum and I can’t stand that.

    We still all get together ‘as a family’ on occasions like birthdays and Christmas, and go out for lunch sometimes, but to me it feels awkward and false and it’s taken all enjoyment out of it that I used to feel. I don’t know what kind of point this is supposed to prove, and I would quite frankly prefer it if we could just keep our lives separate as two families.

    It’s left me keeping my parents at arms length for the sake of my own mental health even though I love them to bits. I wish they’d split when I was a child, as I’d have adapted to the new normal very quickly, and they would have been younger and possibly met other people. It’s a worry to me that they’re almost 60 but both alone. I mean, what will that be like when one of them starts to need more help? Having a spouse makes things so much easier in older age, I think, but neither show any interest in meeting new people.

    I feel like I am absolutely messed up by this, I’ve developed an anxiety disorder and depression, and my head in the sand way of coping hurts both of my parents.

    I’d have thought this would have got better six years down the line.

    • Oh my! I can hear how much you’re still struggling. I don’t know if you’ve worked with a therapist about this, but if you haven’t, I would definitely suggest trying that. A good therapist can make a huge difference. S/he can help you sort out what you’re going through so you can finally put this behind you. There’s no reason to continue to suffer.

      Another thing you might want to consider is changing your “head in the sand” way of coping. It doesn’t seem to be doing you much good.

      You may want to have an honest conversation with each of your parents about how you feel, and what’s going on with you. Doing that can be incredibly scary, but it can also be quite freeing. Even if your parents’ behavior doesn’t change afterward, just by clearing the air you will start to feel better.

      For example, maybe you get up the guts to tell your Dad that when he complains to you about how lonely he is and how much he misses your mum that it really bothers you. Tell him that the reason you don’t spend more time with him is because you can’t stand to hear all that. See what he says. Talk about it. Maybe the conversation will be totally unproductive. But once you’ve had it, if he continues to complain, you can remind him of the conversation. It will relieve you of some of the guilt you’re feeling about not spending time with him. If he KNOWS that you won’t want to spend time with him if he talks about his loneliness, and he continues to talk about his loneliness to you, then you can no longer take full responsibility for staying away sometimes. It was his decision too.

      You may want to have a similar conversation with each of them about having “family” occasions. The truth is, they may be doing that just for you and your brother! They may be as uncomfortable as you are about those occasions. But because no one is being honest with each other, you all may be suffering in silence!

      Finally, you may want to take a look at your own expectations in all of this. Yes, the life you expected to have, and the family you expected to have were both dashed on the rocks. But, the more you focus on what you’ve lost, the more miserable and anxious you will be. Try instead to focus on what kind of life that you want from this point forward – in SPITE of your divorced family! Focus on creating YOUR life … and do it the way you want! Try not to worry right now about what will happen to your parents when they’re old. They’re only in their 60s! With luck, they still have a good 20+ years ahead of them. If they have to work until they’re 80 because of their divorce, that’s not your problem! (Sorry. I don’t mean to be harsh.) But, getting a divorce was their choice! (You may argue that it was only your mum’s choice, but don’t think for one minute that over the course of their marriage your dad didn’t play a role in the deterioration of their marriage too! Sure, he may not have CHOSEN the divorce. But it ALWAYS takes two to tango! BOTH partners always play a role in a divorce, even if one of them played a much bigger role than the other.)

      The long and the short of it is that you’re taking responsibility for your parent’s old age, in advance, before it has even happened. With all due respect, you have no idea what will happen to your parents when they’re old! Right now, re-focusing your energy and attention on yourself and on creating the life you want, independently of your parents, will make you a whole lot happier.

      Hope this helps!

      Karen

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